A fatal triple-car crash described as like a “horror movie” was probably caused by an unknown ailment striking down an elderly driver.
A coroner’s court yesterday found that some mystery medical episode apparently caused William Christopher McCurdy to lose control of his vehicle, resulting in his own death.
The court also heard that Mr McCurdy, a 76-year-old churchgoer, had previously suffered a blackout on the road in 2010, when he struck a telephone pole.
He had a pacemaker fitted after that incident and continued to drive.
The accident which claimed his life unfolded shortly after midday on August 3, 2012, on the Moyarget Road connecting Coleraine to Ballycastle.
Yesterday, James Prior was the first crash-scene driver to give evidence.
He had been entering a bend in the opposite direction when confronted by Mr McCurdy’s silver Citroen C3, which he told the court was driving on the wrong side of the road.
“It looked like he was trying to hit me,” said Mr McCurdy, who had trained to be a driving instructor.
No matter what he tried to do in the seconds before the crash, he said Mr McCurdy still appeared to be “coming straight at me”.
Their cars collided with what was described as a “terrible thump”, shattering Mr Prior’s windscreen.
Mr McCurdy then went on to hit a second vehicle – a Dublin hire car being driven by a Spanish man who was on a pleasure trip to the north coast with his family.
One man who had a narrow escape was Niall McKinley, who told the court he had seen the silver Citroen driving “erratically” in the seconds before the crash.
“What’s the craic with this, boy?” he said to his passenger Jason Bonner.
Mr McCurdy’s car was veering over onto his side of the road, he said, and seemed as if it was swaying.
Mr McKinley avoided being struck, but only by taking what coroner Jim Kitson called “violent evasive action” and swerving aside himself.
His passenger Mr Bonner also recalled the Citroen drifting, and remembered seeing its elderly driver had been leaning over towards the passenger side of his car.
Meanwhile, another witness, Karen Doherty Houghton, was behind Mr McCurdy, and said the car had driven on the wrong side for several car lengths before the crash.
“It was like watching a horror movie,” she told the court.
In the aftermath of the impact, Mr McCurdy was left pinned by his legs in his car, and had to be cut free by firefighters.
He was conscious, and in the ambulance on the way to Causeway hospital he had appeared lucid. But as the journey wore on his pulse decreased, and he also appeared to show signs of internal bleeding.
He was pronounced dead shortly after 2pm.
A post-mortem found his brain had suffered damage, as well as to his legs and ribs.
Mr McCurdy had seemed fine that morning, the court heard, and before setting out on his journey he had told an insurance adviser that he was aiming to get back in time to see the Olympic rowing at 12.30pm.
The coroner found that he had seemed to have been the victim of some medical event or heart condition.
But quite what it was remains uncertain.
A paramedic said his demeanour did not match the symptoms of a full-blown stroke. The court also had heard it was unclear whether it had been a heart attack either.
Mr McCurdy, from Ballycastle, was described as active, a keen sports fan, and was also a regular attendee at Ramoan Church of Ireland parish church.
Professionally he had been, at various times, an accountant and a metal worker.
Speaking afterwards, his younger brother Eric McCurdy, 71, said: “We’d like to thank all those who rendered assistance at the scene of the accident.
“I know everybody did their extreme best, and I’d like to thank them very much.”
He added: “It is one of those things. It can happen to anybody.”